It often seems impossible to love and accept our body. We direct a lot of frustration and anger towards our physical appearance on a daily basis – but why?
Our bodies are only one part of who we are as people. How can we be kind to ourselves and accept our body and physical appearance as they are?
What is body neutrality?
‘Body neutrality’ is the idea of accepting your body as it is now. Your body is a vehicle for you – your personality, thoughts, and values. This movement aims to challenge the idea that your physical appearance drives your worth.
Body neutrality provides a much welcome breath of fresh air as it takes the focus off of your body to instead place your attention on who you are as a person. It is not about loving your body but about accepting it and being kind to yourself. As Crystal Raypole says in her article on practicing body neutrality, “Accepting your body and loving it aren’t mutually exclusive ideas, but body neutrality offers a firm middle ground between body hate and body love”.
To sum up, body neutrality is about being neutral towards your body – just because you don’t love your body, doesn’t mean that you can’t live a happy and meaningful life.
How is body neutrality different from body positivity?
Body positivity tells us that we should all love our bodies but this is a lofty goal for many, especially trans people and those with disabilities. The positive mantra of ‘I am beautiful’ may work for some, but for others it can make them feel worse as they don’t believe what they are saying. Ultimately, you cannot force yourself to find love that isn’t there.
Body positivity places physical attractiveness in the centre of thought to argue that everyone is beautiful, whilst body neutrality states that everyone is simply a person.
However, there is a problem that must be pointed out about the body neutrality movement. However neutrally we regard our own body, society does not regard bodies neutrally. Body neutrality is about changing how you see your body, and does not necessarily directly address our own internal biases nor does it tackle wider societal systems of judgement.
Who can benefit from practicing body neutrality?
In short, everyone can benefit from practicing body neutrality as it is about developing a mindset that places our focus and attention on who we are as people. The movement can especially help those who find the body positivity movement unrealistic to them and their own goals.
Body neutrality can also help those suffering with body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia can take many forms, such as:
- Obsessive worries about a perceived flaw in your physical appearance, often a flaw that is very small or invisible to others.
- Compulsive and repetitive behaviours and routines, i.e. picking skin, excessive use of mirrors, excessive exercise and dieting.
- Significant disruption in your daily life as a result of these thoughts and behaviours i.e. isolation and avoiding social situations.
How can I practice body neutrality?
Food: Choose food you want to eat because you enjoy it and will nourish you. There is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods – it is all about moderation and your mental as well as physical wellbeing.
Exercise: Do enjoyable exercise because you want to and not to ‘burn off calories’ or as a form of self-harm. Choose activities that are social and fun!
Listen to your body: If your body is telling you that you need rest, listen and relax. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits, it will only lead to burn out and make you feel worse.
Acknowledge and reframe negative thoughts: Hilton Head Health sets out three steps for tackling intrusive negative thoughts. Firstly acknowledge the thought in the moment, then take a breath and distance yourself from the thought, then finally reframe the thought to something neutral. For example, you might think “I hate my arms”, then you take a breath and clear your mind, then think “my arms let me hug my loved ones”.
Recognise the underlying reasons for negative thoughts: Consider what might be causing these intrusive criticisms. Do you really hate that part of your appearance or are you echoing what you’ve heard from someone else? Are you trying to regain a sense of lost control?
Redirect others’ negative thoughts: When talking with friends or family and they voice a negative opinion about their own body or another persons’, try changing subject or ask them to not talk about those issues.
Write down positive attributes about yourself: Often we focus on our physical appearance more than our internal attributes. Try creating a list of all the things you like about yourself – the things that make you you.
Accept compliments: Compliments can make us feel uncomfortable when we are stuck in a negative mind frame. By accepting compliments, we can start to view ourselves as our loved ones do. Especially focus on comments that compliment your internal attributes i.e. your skills, experiences, personality, and values.
Don’t compare yourself to others: Everyone has different bodies, different lifestyles, and different genetics so comparing will only lead to harmful thoughts and behaviours. Remember this when seeing images on social media as the reality behind these ‘perfect’ bodies is often photoshop, harmful diets, and genetics.
Fill your life with body neutral people: Surrounding yourself with others that practice body neutrality will help support your journey to neutrality. A good way to do this is by following people and pages on social media that are concerned with spreading awareness of body neutrality and body kindness. Also discuss this movement with your friends and family to create a system of support and understanding.
The body neutrality movement can help us accept our bodies for what they are – one part of you, not the whole. You are more than simply a body, you are your mind, your personality, your values, and your relationships. Your body helps you live your life and should be taken care of, but ultimately it is your mind that makes you who you are.
It can be a daunting and rocky path towards body neutrality but the journey is worth it. Fighting your own internal biases and societal views on weight may seem like an uphill struggle but you and your mental wellbeing is worth putting the work in for.
If you need support or simply a kind ear to listen, Mind Space has trusted and highly skilled licensed therapists available 24 hours a day. We can help you take the steps to improve your life, no matter what challenges you are facing in complete confidence. Get some MindSpace, call us on 0207 553 5010.
More information and support:
Mind: 0300 123 3393
National Centre for Eating Disorders: 0845 838 2040